Are souls to be left abandoned, wandering in the labyrinths of this life, without a Lord who protects them or a helper who supports them?

No matter how strong man claims himself to be, he is weak.

Whenever he is alone, desolation and uncertainty overwhelm him.

He may end up at branching roads and feel at a loss about which to take. If he chooses the wrong path, he may continue toiling through it for days or years without reaching a destination. This is because initially he started without good guidance.

Man direly needs one who inspires in him the correct choice and guides him to the truth whenever mystified or confused. The human body is susceptible to pain in any place. It is like an open city that can be attacked at any time, from any side.

If he contemplates this, man will realize that every atom of his body can be a gateway to a chronic disease, causing him great pain; similarly, he will realize that an unexpected turn of events may affect his entire life.

We are truly in great need of continual good and the removal of hardships through a strong relationship with our Creator that makes life flow easily, peacefully, and blessedly.

Prayer guarantees all this to a believer. Along each day’s route, Islam designated five gracious pauses for God, distributed at specific times throughout the day, during which mankind is directed to meet their Lord, open their hearts, and speak their minds to Him, starting by praising Him and acknowledging His grandeur, followed by requesting His blessings and the averting of evils, asking for His help and seeking His contentment, and shoring up their deficient knowledge with His perfect knowledge and their inadequate power with His Supreme Power.

In a sacred hadith God says:

“I have divided prayer between Myself and My servant into two halves, and My servant shall have what he has asked for. When the servant says, {All the praises and thanks be to Allah, the Lord of existence}, Allah says, ‘My servant has praised Me.’

When he says, {the All-Merciful, the Ever-Merciful}, Allah says, ‘My servant has extolled Me.’ When he says, {The Owner (Master) of the Day of Judgment}, Allah says, ‘My servant has glorified Me.’

When he says, {You (Alone) we worship, and You (Alone) we ask for help (for each and everything)}, Allah says, ‘This is between Me and My servant, and My servant shall have what he has asked for.’

When he says, {Guide us to the Straight Path, the Path of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace, not the path of those who have incurred Your Anger, nor of those who have gone astray.}, Allah says, ‘This is for My servant, and My servant shall have what he has asked for.’” (Muslim)

Prayers & the Purification of the Soul

The body, racing on the tracks of this life, becomes covered with sweat and dust, as does the soul; it becomes overcast by clouds and gloom.

After each long round, it needs some time to tidy up and restore purity and order to that which has been soiled or disheveled. Prayer is no more than a few moments that recover this lost or sought-after perfection.

Abu Sa‘id Al-Khudri narrated that he heard Prophet Muhammad saying:

“The five daily prayers provide expiation for whatever occurs in the time between them. Imagine a man has work and there are five rivers between his house and his workplace. He would go to his workplace and work as much as Allah willed, becoming dirty or sweaty. Then, whenever he came to a river, he would bathe, what would remain of his dirt?

It is like this with prayer; whenever he commits a sin, he supplicates and seeks forgiveness, so he is forgiven for whatever has preceded it.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

Too much is relinquished in the struggle for existence or the battle for bread, into which people throw themselves while the instinct most active in their blood is selfishness, against which the ideals of reciprocal mercy, altruism, and benevolence are reduced to faint impulses.

Abandoning people to such fiery emotions will inevitably stifle their human virtues. No wonder that God prescribed prayers throughout the day and night as a lifeline thrown out of the blaze every now and then. The Prophet said:

“Allah has an angel that calls out at every prayer: “O Children of Adam! Rise to the fires which you have ignited and put them out.” And he said, “You burn! You burn! And once you pray Subh (Dawn prayer), it washes it out. Then you burn! You burn!

And once you pray Dhuhr (Noon prayer), it washes it out. Then you burn! You burn! And once you pray ‘Asr (Afternoon prayer), it washes it out. Then you burn! You burn! And once you pray Maghrib (Sunset Prayer), it washes it out. Then you burn! You burn! And once you pray ‘Isha’ (Night Prayer), it washes it out. Then you sleep, and the writing down (of your deeds) stops until you wake up.” (At-Tabarani)

The hadith portrays the minor sins committed throughout the complex and entangled lives of people, and the softening and pacifying influence that prayers have on them.

Prayers & Psychological Fortitude

Prayer lifts up the soul to heaven whenever it clings to earth, and connects it with its Lord whenever it is severed from Him through heedlessness or distraction.

About the power that the experience of prayer has, Dale Carnegie narrated: “As I said before, even the scientists are turning to religion. Take, for example, Dr. Alexis Carrel, who wrote, ‘Man, the Unknown’ and won the greatest honor that can be bestowed upon any scientist, the Nobel Prize. Dr. Carrel said in a Reader’s Digest article, ‘Prayer is the most powerful form of energy one can generate. It is a force as real as terrestrial gravity.

As a physician, I have seen men, after all other therapy had failed, lifted out of disease and melancholy by the serene effort of prayer. Prayer, like radium, is a source of luminous, self-generating energy.

In prayer, human beings seek to augment their finite energy by addressing themselves to the Infinite source of all energy. When we pray, we link ourselves with the inexhaustible motive power that spins the universe. We pray that a part of this power be apportioned to our needs.

Even in asking, our human deficiencies are filled and we arise strengthened and repaired. Whenever we address God in fervent prayer, we change both soul and body for the better. It could not happen that any man or woman could pray for a single moment without some good result.’” (How to Stop Worrying, 80)

This is best explained by God’s words:

{And when My servants ask you (O Muhammad) about Me, (answer them), I am indeed near. I respond to the invocations of the supplicant when he calls on Me (without any mediator or intercessor). So let them obey Me and believe in Me, so that they may be led aright.} (Al-Baqarah 2: 186)

Giving your first thought upon waking up to God surrounds you with power and protection all day long. Having woken up mindful of God, sought His Refuge, and asked for His Protection, indeed God will not forsake those who seek Him or withhold what they need. The Prophet said:

“Anyone who prays Subh is under Allah’s Protection, so do not subject yourself to His Punishment by breaching His Protection (i.e. harming those whom He protects) in any way; anyone who breaches His Protection in any way, Allah will seize, and then throw on his face into Hellfire.” (Muslim)

That is how close the connection between God and His devoted servants is. He not only takes them into His Care, but regards them as His Own Self. Any transgression against them is a transgression against Himself (Glorified and Exalted be He).

“Anyone who antagonizes a devotee of Mine, I declare war against him. My slave approaches Me with nothing more beloved to Me than the religious duties I have enjoined upon him, and My slave keeps drawing nearer to Me with voluntary works until I love him.

And when I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his sight with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, and his foot with which he walks. If he asks me, I will surely give to him, and if he seeks refuge in Me, I will surely protect him.” (Al-Bukhari)

Such is God’s grace towards those who, with their whole being, live perpetually connected to Him through prayers and other righteous works, and whenever some difficulty comes their way, run to Him as a child runs to the protective arms of his father, for Him to ward off harm and grant them safety. It was reported in a hadith:

“Whenever some difficulty arose, Prophet Muhammad would hurry to prayer.” (Abu Dawud)

Prayer fulfills basic psychological needs which have their roots in human nature. Dale Carnegie wrote: “Why does religious faith bring us such peace and calm and fortitude?

I will let William James answer that.

He says: ‘The turbulent billows of the fretful surface leave the deep parts of the ocean undisturbed; and to him who has a hold on vaster and more permanent realities, the hourly vicissitudes of his personal destiny seem relatively insignificant things. The really religious person is, accordingly, unshakable and full of equanimity, and calmly ready for any duty that the day may bring forth.’

If we are worried and anxious – why not try God? Why not, as Immanuel Kant said: ‘accept a belief in God because we need such a belief’? Why not link ourselves now ‘with the inexhaustible motive power that spins the universe’?”

Even if you are not a religious person by nature or training – even if you are an out-and-out skeptic – prayer can help you much more than you believe, for it is a practical thing.

What do I mean, practical? I mean that prayer fulfills these three very basic psychological needs which all people share, whether they believe in God or not:

1. Prayer helps us to put into words exactly what is troubling us. It is almost impossible to deal with a problem while it remains vague and nebulous. Praying, in a way, is very much like writing our problem down on paper. If we ask for help for a problem – even from God – we must put it into words.

2. Prayer gives us a sense of sharing our burdens, of not being alone. Few of us are so strong that we can bear our heaviest burdens, our most agonizing troubles, all by ourselves. Sometimes our worries are of so intimate a nature that we cannot discuss them even with our closest relatives or friends. Then prayer is the answer. Any psychiatrist will tell us that when we are pent-up and tense, and in an agony of spirit, it is therapeutically good to tell someone our troubles. When we cannot tell anyone else – we can always tell God.

3. Prayer puts into force an active principle of doing. It is a first step toward action. I doubt if anyone can pray for some fulfillment, day after day, without benefiting from it – in other words, without taking some steps to bring it to pass. A world-famous scientist said: ‘Prayer is the most powerful form of energy one can generate.’”

Caringly and lovingly, God warns people not to trust their own power as sufficient, as this deficient view would deprive them of the blessings of providence and keep them forever imprisoned within the confines of their own weakness and ignorance.

In a sacred hadith God says:

“O My slaves, all of you are astray except those whom I guide, so seek My Guidance and I will guide you. O My slaves, all of you are hungry except those whom I feed, so ask me for food and I will feed you.

O My slaves, all of you are naked except those whom I clothe, so ask me for clothing and I will clothe you.

O My slaves, you err by night and by day and I forgive all sins, so ask for My forgiveness and I will forgive you.” (Muslim)

Have you felt the sincerity of persistence to lead back strayed humans to God, their Lord, in order to receive provisions, place their reliance on Him, and empower themselves with His infinite power?

Truly, only those who are poor in their hearts and minds live away from such inexhaustible, divine goodness.

By Sheikh Mohammed al-Ghazali

Works Cited:

Carnegie, Dale. How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990

This article is a translated excerpt from Sheikh Muhammad Al-Ghazali’s book: “Renew Your Life”. It is translated and adapted by Haya Muhammad Eid & edited by Emily Katharine Richardson.